NEW YORK -- The search for the next American Idol begins anew on Sunday night with the premiere episode of Season 21 on ABC.
Superstar judges Luke Bryan, Katy Perry, and Lionel Richie are back together for a 6th season. They've become like family, Perry says.
"This is our sixth season. We love our job. We love each other. We have so much respect for each other and respect for the gig," Perry said during an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
Emmy Award-winner Ryan Seacrest is also back as host of the iconic music competition.
The nationwide search began with American Idol auditions in Las Vegas, Nashville, and New Orleans and contestants vying for a ticket to Hollywood week.
Richie said what's really changed the equation is the in-person interviews taking place online before the auditions, which means people come from all over including cities and towns that Idol could not reach before.
"Which means it's for a city we've never heard of in Arkansas," Richie said.
And that means the pool is filled with more talent than ever before.
"Every time we start a season we think 'okay, well, there's no more talent left in America because we've picked them all out' and literally we get to the middle of filming and we're like 'oh my gosh, brace yourselves because this is the best of the best of the best,'" Perry added.
Ahead of the premiere, Idol released a preview video of one of those contestants, 16-year-old Haven Madison. She grew up on a tour bus with her dad, the lead singer of a Christian band. He plays guitar during her audition. In a daring move, she sang an original song called "Fifteen."
After Haven's performance, the judges were ready to take her to the recording studio!
"Your songwriting ability is incredible," Lionel Richie said. "You can be anything you want to be."
Among the contestants is Kya Monee, who has an emotional return to the Idol stage. Kya auditioned for Season 19 and performed alongside Willie Spence during Hollywood Week. They performed a duet of Rihanna's 'Stay' and brought all 3 judges to tears.
Spence, the runner-up that season, was killed in a car crash last October. Inspired by Spence to try again, Monee posted on Instagram that this season's audition brought her to tears.
The premiere features a mix of compelling stories, fun moments (like when Luke Bryan meets Luke Bryan), and, of course, some incredible performances by these aspiring singers who are hoping to become the next Idol.
The journey begins Sunday at 8/7c on ABC and streams the next day on Hulu.
Complete List of previous American Idol winners
2002 - Kelly Clarkson
2003 - Ruben Studdard
2004 - Fantasia Barino
2005 - Carrie Underwood
2006 - Taylor Hicks
2007 - Jordin Sparks
2008 - David Cook
2009 - Kris Allen
2010 - Lee DeWyze
2011 - Scotty McCreery
2012 - Phillip Phillips
2013 - Candice Glover
2014 - Caleb Johnson
2015 - Nick Fradiani
2016 - Trent Harmon
2018 - Maddie Poppe
2019 - Laine Hardy
2020 - Just Sam
2021 - Chayce Beckham
2022 - Noah Thompson